Asian Stocks Hit By Rate-Cut Uncertainty, Middling China GDP; Nikkei Rises

Most Asian stocks fell on Wednesday as Federal Reserve officials downplayed expectations for early interest rate cuts, while economic growth figures from China largely underwhelmed markets.

But Japanese shares traded positive, with local indexes briefly notching new 34-year highs on hopes that monetary conditions in the country will remain ultra-loose.

Chinese stocks slide as Q4 GDP missing expectations

China’s Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 and Shanghai Composite indexes fell between 0.7% to 1%, as the country’s fourth-quarter gross domestic product grew slightly less than expected, at 5.2%.

Losses in mainland stocks dragged Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index down 3%, as did weakness in heavyweight technology shares.

Annual GDP growth came in at 5.2%, beating Beijing’s 5% target for 2023. But a bulk of this growth was driven by a lower base for comparison from 2022.

Wednesday’s figures showed that Asia’s largest economy was still struggling to shore up growth from COVID-era lulls, amid persistent pressure from weak consumer spending, sluggish private investment and an ongoing property sector crisis.

The reading bodes poorly for broader Asian markets, given China’s dominance as a trading partner for the region. Australia’s ASX 200 fell 0.2%, while Indonesian stocks led losses in Southeast Asia with a 0.4% decline.

Asian tech slides as Fed’s Waller downplays early rate-cut hopes

Regional technology stocks were the worst performers for the day, with losses in tech heavyweights dragging South Korea’s KOSPI and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng down between 2% and 3%.

Futures for India’s Nifty 50 index also pointed to a weak open, with the country’s major tech stocks set to track weakness in their Asian peers. Indian markets were also vulnerable to profit-taking after surging to record highs earlier this week.

Traders were seen pricing in a smaller chance of a March 2024 rate cut after Fed Governor Christopher Waller said there was no need for the bank to cut interest rates early, given recent resilience in the U.S. economy.

His comments triggered a sharp pullback on Wall Street, which spilled over into Asian trade. S&P 500 Futures also retreated in Asian trade.

Nikkei pushes higher on dovish BOJ hopes, but gains limited

Japanese stocks were the only bourses trading positive on Wednesday, as optimism over easy monetary conditions largely offset headwinds from the U.S. and China.

The Nikkei 225 rose 0.4%, trimming a bulk of its gains after briefly crossing the 36,000 point mark and hitting a new 34-year high earlier on Wednesday.

The broader TOPIX index rose 0.6% and also hit a 34-year high above 2,500 points. Both indexes had fallen slightly on Tuesday.

Flows into Japanese stocks were driven chiefly by expectations that the Bank of Japan will maintain its ultra-dovish stance in the near-term, which makes it an outlier among its global peers in keeping monetary conditions loose.

Soft producer price index data released earlier this week pointed to little pressure on the BOJ to consider tightening policy- a notion that is expected to be reiterated by consumer price index data due this Friday.

The BOJ is set to decide on policy later in January. –

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